Monday, April 30, 2018

Broadway Theater Review: St. Joan

Condola Rashad. Photo: Joan Marcus
Saint Joan
By George Bernard Shaw
Directed by Daniel Sullivan
Manhattan Theatre Club
Through June 10


By Lauren Yarger
George Bernard Shaw's Saint Joan, which doesn't get too many productions, has found its way to a Broadway staging thanks to Manhattan Theatre Club.

While it's always a welcome treat to see plays featuring strong women characters on Broadway, Shaw's 1923 work about the 15th-Century religious martyr might not be the best choice. Most of its stage time, like most plays, goes to the men. Whole scenes feature the men talking about Joan or reacting to Joan, but not much time is given to the development of the character of the religious martyr who later received sainthood for her efforts to lead France to victory over the English during the time of the Hundred Years War.

Played here by Condola Rashad, and directed by Daniel Sullivan, the "Maid of Orléans" comes off as somewhat dimwitted and an unfortunate religious zealot. The drama starts when Joan believes she hears the voices of saints Margaret and Catherine, as well as the Archangel Michael, telling her to crown the Dauphin (Adam Chanler-Berat) Charles VII at Reims. Robert de Baudricourt (Patrick Page) and his steward (Robert Stanton) finally are convinced their chickens won't lay eggs until she gets her way.

She leads an attack with Dunois (Daniel Sunjata), who becomes a supporter. Her victories prompt discussion among others, including the Earl of Warwick (Jack Davenport), Chaplain de Stogumber (also Stanton) and the Bishop of Beauvais (Walter Bobbie, marking the theatrical director’s first return to Broadway as an actor in more than 20 years). The only explanation for her success is that Joan is a witch, de Stogumber concludes, and the poor girl, at only about 19 years of age, is burned at the stake.

The two hours and 45 minutes drags mostly because of all of the men talking about and around Joan. I wanted to know more about her. An illiterate, poor country girl who suddenly feels called to lead the armies of France -- and in soldier's garb (Costume Design is by Jane Greenwood)-- is kind of interesting. Or should be.

How did she come to believe the voices were real? With whom did she first share the knowledge? Even though she vows to be obedient to God's calling, are there moments when she doubts? Does she regret her decision never to marry? Was there a young man she ever had hoped to marry? Had she ever hoped to have children?

I am certain marriage and children certainly had been part of the hopes of a young girl in 1500s France, so how did she cope with that loss? How does she develop the skills necessary to survive on the battle field and to inspire her troops to battle? How does she keep the men's spirits up in the face of defeat? Why does she suddenly decide the voices have been wrong and recant her testimony?  

Any of these questions might have been further developed to give us a heroic woman character with many layers and depth of emotion. Instead we are left with woman developed just enough to fuel conversation for the male characters.

Meanwhile if you are wondering whether color-blind casting works here to have an African-American play Joan, I would say yes, without a problem save one line of dialogue that gives us pause. Rashad makes the character -- what there is of her, that is -- her own. A better choice would be to find one of the many plays written by women about women heroes out there and produce that one.

Saint Joan plays at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47th St., through June 10.

Additional credits:
The design team includes Scott Pask (scenic design), Justin Townsend (lighting design), Obadiah Eaves (sound design), Christopher Ash (projection design), Tom Watson (hair and wig design), Bill Frisell (original music), Deborah Hecht (dialect coach), and Tommy Kurzman (make-up design).

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:
-- No content notes, but I would say this is not going to be for younger kids.

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York in February 2018.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com. She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle. and the Episcopal Actors' Guild.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

Copyright

All material is copyright 2008- 2018 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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